24 June 2013

Pelerinaj de Sanziene

Suceava is having its birthday today!  Well, it took us a while to find this out, and we are still not sure if it is the city’s birthday or its Patron Saint’s.

Suceava fortress under construction

Suceava fortress under construction

We went up to the fortress in the morning.  This has commanding views over the town, and area.  Unfortunately it is undergoing reconstruction, and there are piles of rubble everywhere.  It was apparently used as a prison for the re-education of political dissidents under the communist regime, but it is impossible to find out any more detail on this.  The Romanian museums are more than happy to talk about their history, as long as it is ancient history… There is very little mentioned on the communist era, or even the Ottoman/Hungarian occupations.  Apparently they didn’t happen!  Still, it is a nice walk through a small forest in the city.

Coming back we again passed the monastery of St John.  Again there were masses of people outside, but this time the police had set up barricades and blocking people from walking around.  We knew something was happening, but had no idea when it would start or what it was.  We hung around until it started raining, and then made our way towards the town centre.  Again the streets were lined with people and the police were doing crowd control.  This seems fairly major.  As the rain had eased for the time being, we again found a spot to wait.  Gypsies were going around selling balloons for the kids, or had drink stalls set up, and while the atmosphere was not sombre, it had an air of expectation in it.

Musical priest

Musical priest

After a long wait, the people started moving.  Something was happening!  A priest appeared from around the corner.  He was carrying a large plank of wood, and hitting it with a hammer to create a beat.  The crowd surged forward.  This was it, we would now see what is happening.  Before he passed us, he had to stop.  There were two people behind him carrying an Icon, and they had been swamped by people pushing and shoving to get close enough to touch it.  The lucky ones even got to kiss it.  The police tried their best, but it was pointless,  they had to let people past, or be crushed to death!  After a while the procession could continue on.  The priests after the icon were carrying banners or burning incense, and after that there was a large coffin like shape being carried by six priests.  This is the holy relics of St John himself.  Getting out of the church for a look around town.

Duck under the icon for good luck

Duck under the icon for good luck

People were massing towards it as well, throwing flowers at it, trying to touch it, and generally in a religious frenzy when it appeared.  After it passed, we were pushed out of the wake trailing it.  Fairly forcefully at that.  Still, the procession progressed.  Following it down the street, we discovered St John was doing a tour of the churches.  the bells would ring on his arrival and departure of any one church, and people strained to get to him.  At one point there was a line of people passing underneath the coffin.  They all bent down and the priests carried it over their heads.  It was an amazing sight.

We caught up with the procession in a couple of different places, and watched people jostling for position.  They would run ahead, get passed, and run ahead again.  The monks were enjoying the entire thing, and were laughing and chatting with people.  Giving blessings when asked and revelling in the attention.
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The people enjoyed the holiday, and spent the rest of the day relaxing and partying.  It did explain the festival of the last couple of days, and we were happy and lucky to see it.

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